Trends in Displays
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Feature: Camera Displays are becoming ever more important in cameras
Idea:the technology, borrowing from TVs and mobile phones, is advancing rapidly

Display technology, both very large for very large use (giant LCD and Plasma Television screens) and for the very small (primarily mobile phones - think iPhone) have started to accelerate development and innovations on how displays will be used in and around video and SLR cameras.

One of the biggest trends happening in consumer electronics is the move away from PCs and laptops to mobile, cameras and handhelds as the hotbed for consumer electronic innovations and associated software development. But mobile phones are not the only ones to profit from the advances in display technology. Both SLR and video cameras have really moved displays technology to the top of innovations in their product lines. One only has to glance at the feature set of video and top of the line SLR cameras:

The LCD display screens are at such high resolutions (2.5 to 3.25 inch diagonal at 300K to 900K pixels)and bright enough such that they can be used as Live Viewfinders in most shooting conditions. This capability has moved from video to high end SLRs as the brightness and resolution of the screens crossed the "daylight-use" threshold.

These developments are derived from some of the work done on large TV screen TFT-based displays and as technology improves on TV screens its gets passed down to cameras. The nets result is that cameras now have better than ever WYSIWYG views of what is being recorded.

Given the amount of computing power available on a typical camera chip, new ways of running the camera and viewing images taken will begin to appear. A stylus or gestures based system like the iPhone are within reach as mobile phone and handheld programming methods transfer to the camera world. This type of slideshow/movie control plus camera management will be worth much more to end users than the efforts of some camera vendors to bring post processing like cropping, exposure and color corrections to the camera.

The fundamental drawback to these efforts is that the screens are still very modest size. Also display of pictures for a group of more than two is clumsy. If you want to show off what shots were taken after a photo-outing, users have to a)bring along a notebook or laptop , b)upload the images and c)then run software to display the images or video at a comfortable size that can be viewed by a small group. But that may be changing quickly with the development of pico-projectors.

Pico-projectors

The idea behind pico-projectors is to be able to display a TV sized image - 12 to 20 inch diagonal on any blank, flat surface. The Economist has an article on the rapid development of some of the basic technologies used in pico-projectors. The technologies are not new but have matured over the past 6-8 years. The two competing methods use either a reflective surface (so called reflective liquid-crystal-on-silicon (LCoS)) or mirrors powered by tiny LEDs.

offsiteAlready handheld projectors have reached the market. And the race is on to deliver tiny projectors that could be added to a mobile phone or camera (video or SLR), so that record images could be projected onto a surface. The range of possibilities continues to expand with the increased image quality and falling display size and costs.

The result is that a whole slew of consumer electric titans are rushing to get products out on the market place that use pico-projectors. So far no major camera vendor has tipped its hand on what it may be doing in the arena; but such aggressive new camera vendors as Panasonic and Samsung are also working on pico-projector technology. So expect the technology to appear within the next 1-3 years in and around cameras.

Holography

One of the developments that has come out of pico-projectors and science is the use of holography to project the image - holography is dependent on a laser beam passing through a refractive medium storing an image. The advantage is that the image appears as a 3d object; however the disadvantage is that the image itself can be fuzzy, duotoned (1 color plus black and white), and computationally intensive - i.e. a holographic display soaks up a lot of any extra computing power available on a camera's chips. Nonetheless, holographic images have a highly desirable characteristic - as the observer changes position the other side of the object comes into view.

Current pico-projection system use variations on holographic methods. These results are being investigated in the whole arena of "spatial imaging". Its not yet "Star Wars" Jedi capable, but is improving. MIT has a laboratory devoted to work in this field. Go there to see how close 3D holography is to coming to a camera near and dear to you. Its both farther and closer than you think.

Summary

Already display technology has brought LiveViewers to top of the line SLR and video cameras and has changed how the cameras are laid out and operated. Expect stylus and/or iPhone like gestures to come to these screens. But pico-projectors may have a big impact too - allowing slideshows or video to be projected on a wall and viewed by a small group of 2-8 people. Finally, holographic methods may also come to the camera to display images in novel ways. In sum, just like chips, storage, and batteries - image display is changing the technology of cameras .




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